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Jamaica is an antisocial society!

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica's homicide rate is among the highest in the world. Most people here know someone who has either been robbed, injured or killed. Jamaica has become a frightening place to live and this speaks to a high level of antisocial behaviour here.

We have also exported our antisocial behaviour. We know very well of Jamaican gangs which have infiltrated countries such as the US and Britain. These countries have been deporting our citizens, about 3,000 of them every year. Even our Caribbean neighbours have been taking measures to screen and prevent Jamaicans from entering their countries as we are perceived as aggressive and antisocial.

Uncivilised and lawless

I have been working with deportees for the past 12 years and I am struck by the fact that many of them end up in this situation because they had not learnt how to survive as civilised, lawful human beings in any society. Our society does not nurture these civilised and lawful behaviours and so many of our nationals do not know how to exist in a modern, civilised world.

I have been thinking about this for quite a while but the urgency for change was impressed on me after the reading the book,
Dead Yard
. This book written by Ian Thompson gives an outside perspective of Jamaica's situation. While many of us sit in the comfort of our uptown homes, there is a society fast decaying around us. When we live in the forest, we stop seeing the trees. I encourage us to read this book.

How did we get here and how can we fix it? We are in this place because of years of systematic neglect and a refusal to pay attention to some fundamental problems in this society. These include:

Failure ofthe school system

Our educational system has failed the majority of our people. It has educated a handful of elites who can function well in any society but the vast majority of students are exposed to substandard education in many of our secondary schools. In addition, a review of our curriculum will indicate that we have not been teaching some core values, character education and life skills and so our people are not adequately prepared to function in a modern society.

Lack of employment opportunities

Many young people are leaving school functionally illiterate and unemployable. In addition, the unemployment rate is so high that many of them are excluded from the society's opportunity structure. Their only hope is to engage in criminal activity, sell drugs, deal in guns or just sit idly and smoke their pain away with ganja.

A corrupt political system

Politics in Jamaica has been very self-serving. Our politicians are more concerned about keeping a party in power rather than creating a stable and safe society. As we are all aware, the political parties are aligned to communities which are hot beds for criminal activities.

A culture of lawlessness

In my lifetime, I have seen this culture of lawlessness developing in Jamaica. Laws are rarely enforced in this country. For example, people are allowed to squat on land and years later the government will reward this behaviour by putting in infrastructure. The roads are overtaken by thugs and disrespectful drivers. If you are old or a stranger, it is difficult to drive on our roads. The police are having an enormous challenge in policing the roads and we must commend their recent efforts. Also, ganja smoking has become widespread and commonplace in public spaces.

A decadentpopular culture

The popular culture glamorises raw, unadulterated sex and violence. It preaches intolerance towards minority groups. The result is that many of our deejays are not allowed to perform in functional and civilised societies where people respect each other. The real threat is that our music will soon become unpopular. Civilised states begin to associate it with violence and decadence.

How can we fix it?

1. Enrich family life and place a great emphasis on parenting skills training.

2. Rebuild communities especially those unplanned squatter settlements which exist on the margins. Many of them have become crime-infested and breeding ground for people with antisocial behaviour.

3. Enforce law and order. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to law-and-order enforcement and all citizens should support the efforts of the police.

4. A new political culture. If our politicians mean us well they need to think beyond the present, and keeping themselves in power. Make decisions for the long term and for the good of the majority.

Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Department Of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies. Telephone: 977-1108; email: